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What insights do

autism and the cinema hold for each other?

Three project phases: film archaeology, participatory workshops, film practice. 

How did a definition of autism evolve from early twentieth-century medical film and how does this compare to entertainment film?

Professor Janet Harbord and Research Fellow Dr Bonnie Evans will conduct film archaeology, working with a number of UK and international film archives to situate autism within a developing narrative of bodies and their intelligibility.


This research will involve gathering and identifying archive films that feature medical interest in gesture, communicability and body language. Selection will largely focus on the use of film in psychiatric contexts although some medical films of other types of treatment will be reviewed and may be relevant. These archive medical films will then be cross-referenced with selected entertainment films to draw out concepts of the communicative body.

How can cinema be reconfigured through neurodiverse experience? Our sequence of carefully structured workshops will expand the findings of the archival research. In initial workshops run with autistic participants we’ve begun to make amazing discoveries, about social and screen ‘event boundaries’, turn-taking in dialogue exchanges, body proxemics and the fuzzy social rules of how close to stand to another person.  We’ve reverse-engineered eye-tracking software and remixed film audio to privilege atmosphere tracks over speech and loud music. Our autism friendly sessions consider discourses of impairment, disability, discomfort and difference, as well as autism as a condition with benefits. Each workshop is designed with our partners Project Artworks and collaborators Kate Adams, Sebastian Gaigg, and Damian Milton.

What insights can persons who identify as autistic bring to representations of autism in archival and contemporary film?

How can collaborative filmmaking deepen our understanding of diverse cognitive states and expose the limitations of normative perception?

Taking up the findings of both the archive and workshop activity, Steven Eastwood will work with producer Elhum Shakerifar and the production company Hakawati to conduct participatory film practice research leading to the production of a feature film and VR artwork.

Collaborative filmmaking will be used as a tool to integrate the views and sensibilities of a vulnerable population and elucidate the potential of autism to expand our understanding of bodily communication. Autism will be explored as a condition with benefits, as well as a means to develop an alternative film language that is inclusive and derivative of the neurodiverse population. 

Autism Through Cinema will present the project’s research and collaborative process through a diverse range of creative media and discursive contexts: film, writing, VR, exhibition and events.

Film archaeology

Practical workshops

Film practice

22nd March 2018

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Bonnie Evans is speaking on a panel on ‘Rebalancing Power in Global Mental Health’ at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

March 2018

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'Between Instincts and Intelligence: The precarious sciences of child identity in twentieth century Britain’ by Bonnie Evans is being published in Psychoanalysis and History

March/April 2018

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Bonnie Evans is appearing in a BBC4 documentary on The History of Eugenics.


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Janet Harbord's article on stardom, body language and gesture, titled: ‘Greta Gerwig’s gestures: Agamben in the land of stardom’, is being published in the journal Film_Philosophy.

17th May 2018

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Janet Harbord is presenting  ‘Film as a training for neurotypical life’, at It’s Alive Conference, University of Toronto, Canada.


Meet the project's collaborators from across the fields of autism and advocacy, art, speech and gesture, history, education and activism.

Read about ongoing activity surrounding the project and how you could contribute to the project.

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